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Light Strike Array: Tools & Weapons
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Voices of VR Podcast – Episode #640
[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So I did an interview a while back with John Root of VRLA, and we talked about esports and the future of esports within virtual reality. Esports in general, it's impossible for you to just say, okay, I'm going to create an esports game. An esports game only becomes an esports game when there's people who want to play it, but also other people who want to watch other people playing it. And so there has to be an internal competitive nature within the dynamics of the game, and it has to be interesting for people to watch. And I think with virtual reality, it's been difficult because it's actually pretty boring to watch other people play VR up until recently where we've started to have a lot more mixed reality types of situations where it's actually much more fun and better to watch other people in VR, like in a mixed reality dynamic than it is to just see people move their body around and try to imagine what they're trying to do or to try to do these first person perspectives. So what eSports is going to look like within virtual reality, like it's going to happen at some point. It's just a matter of like, what is the progression towards this path towards eSports? And so after I did this interview with Jon Root, I actually had somebody reach out to me. It was Chris Weidewitz. And he has this Light Array VR where he's trying to be inspired by other eSports games like Dota. He's a huge Dota 2 game player, and he's understands it, he spectates it, he understands the dynamics of that. He's trying to create a temperamental balance between many different roles in these different team sports so that there's people who are doing more aggressive things and more people being like hanging back and mining and doing different stuff where it's much more about an embodied experience. So he mentioned somebody in there, Matt LeBlanc, and before we dive in, I wanted to kind of just extrapolate Matt LeBlanc's eight different reasons why people play games. He mapped out the different, in talking to different gamers, the different temperamental balances. And I think I'll associate them to the elements, because that's what I like to do, is try to take an elemental view in this. So the things that people like to do in order to play games. First of all, it's for discovery or expression. That's the fire element. So you exploring into a world, discovering things, but also you expressing your identity as self-expression of you expressing yourself. Pretty much every game is about agency and fire to some extent because you're taking action. And then the mental presence, the air element, is that challenge and the puzzle. And so there's the fellowship, the challenge, and the fantasy. So the fellowship is the social interacting with other people. It's the challenge of you solving problems and that tension that comes in that puzzle. But also the fantasy of escaping into some sort of mental construct of a world that's apart from your reality that you're in. You're able to go on this sort of mental adventure in that way. And then there's the earth element, which is the sensation or the submission. And the submission actually comes up a lot. But I'd say that both the air and fire are these outward expressions of agency. And there's other reasons why people play, which is much more of a receptive dimension of them having in some sort of embodied sensory experience. But Also just submitting. So there's a bit of a chop wood carry water where you're doing something very repetitive and it's just, it's not a mental task at all, but you can get you into this different states of flow that are not about you being able to solve a puzzle, but it's just you having the embodied experience within your body and clicking and being able to like get in these different flow states. And then finally the water element being the narrative, but I also would say like rhythm and music and other things that sort of engage the emotions in some types of way. So those are the eight main different things from Matt LeBlanc. That's the active presence of discovery and expression, the mental and social presence of fellowship, challenge, and fantasy, the embodied presence of sensation and submission, and then the emotional presence of the narrative. So I just wanted to extrapolate that out because as we think about game design and experiential design, games have to have these ebbs and flows and the tempo and do these different temperamental balances. And so Chris has a lot of ideas for what that might look like and he's been experimenting with that within this light array VR. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Chris happened on Tuesday, May 1st, 2018. It was at the F8 conference that I happened to be at. He came down for the interview, and Beat Saber had just been released on that launch day, and I had released that podcast episode with the creators, and he was also just kind of, you know, thinking about these embodied gameplays. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:04:46.527] Chris Woytowitz: So, my name is Chris Wojtowicz. I'm an independent VR developer working on a Crystal Punk fight-scale battle arena called Lightstrike Array as part of my 1-2 man indie squad, Unwieldly Systems. So I guess my story, VR more or less started for me with the Vive and sort of the build-up and launch of the Vive. I was very excited for the technology and everybody was hyping up I guess since like from 2014 to 2016 and I am a huge Valve fanboy. I'm like Hammer Legion crew all the way through. There's just something about the way they do things that always clicked with me. So when they said we were working on a Virtual Rally thing, I couldn't wait. So I pre-ordered it, got it on day one, unpacked it, played all the standard games that you got. I think I went with, so I played The Lab, which is great. I played Space Pirate Trainer. I played Hover Junkers. A couple other little ones. I played those real hard for about a week and then sort of about that time rolled around and I was like, okay, I'm bored. I'm going right back to Dota. And this was actually kind of a common theme among me and my peers. We, like, really, really like the tech, but none of the content out there sort of had the same sort of meat that traditional games had. Like, we play a lot of Dota, which is probably most well known for being perhaps literally the most complex video game in existence. And despite its inaccessibility, toxicity, complexity, it's been going strong for 14, 15 years now. And... I thought, okay, well, VR is really exciting. There's all this cool stuff that people could do. I'll just, you know, wait around until... At some point, you know, we'll get past the tech demos, and it'll click. And I waited, and I waited. I'm extremely impatient. So about six months rolled around, and that was about when I realized it's not coming. Not only, like, was there not anything that I was really excited for that had been released, but nothing was even announced that even sort of... that even piqued my interest. So I was like, all right, how hard could this be? So I started breaking ground on Lightstriker at a hack week.
[00:07:02.505] Kent Bye: I was just gonna say, well, what was it about the gameplay mechanics that you were looking for? Because, you know, I imagine that a lot of gaming is, you know, making choices, taking action, there's levels of abstraction that are there, and that so much of virtual reality is this, you know, depth of embodiment and embodied gameplay. just today it's May 1st and you know Beat Saber has just been released and you know I had a week to play it before it came out and you know put seven hours into it. I was playing it every day and I felt like it was this game that was starting to really combine the mental puzzle aspect but you're using your body to solve the puzzles and then you're also expressing your agency and you're making all these choices by having to swipe in different directions and so I just felt like As a game and as an experience, it was really kind of like, you know, for me, like this, yes, this is a game that I have been waiting for, that really kind of pushes the edge of this, you know, unique affordance of this embodied gameplay in VR.
[00:07:55.525] Chris Woytowitz: Yeah, absolutely. No, I've been excited for Beat Saber ever since the mixed reality video went viral. I actually ended up just by chance meeting or knowing the guys that did the video. I don't know if you've met them, but they're- Liv? Liv, yeah, yeah, yeah. I posted the announcement trailer for LSA's Early Access back in November. And Roo, who's a big Rhythm Gamer, and I think he's based out of the UK, he posted a comment in my thread, and he was like, have you thought about doing mixed reality for this thing? And I was like, I sure have, but UE4's mixed reality support is total ass. They keep saying it's going to happen, it's not going to happen. He was like, we have a plugin. I was like, do you now? So, I've sort of been interfacing with them. Suddenly, like, their Discord is blowing up. If you can imagine what a thousand VR YouTubers in the same place is like, that's roughly what that community is, and it's kind of fascinating. It's not as awful as you might expect, actually.
[00:08:47.931] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just spent about six hours trying to get... get through the kinks of the live mixed reality at the Portland Immersive Group to shoot a couple of videos. And what I would say is that it's still very early days to get the mixed reality working, and there was a certain level of frustration. But the payoff is that you have this seamless blending of the closest approximation that I've had to being able to give a visual depiction of what it feels to have an experience within a flow state within virtual reality. It's still even when I saw the video I was like it still doesn't match what I'm feeling when I play the game and have the experience where you're fully immersed but it's like the closest like depiction that I've seen in a 2d translation to have this blending of of the so I think there's a certain degree of the games that people really get excited about is that you kind of look cool and like a badass when you play it in mixed reality is that you have this expression of your identity that you're able to share with your friends
[00:09:44.473] Chris Woytowitz: Yeah, no, I totally agree. I was listening to your latest podcast where you talk with the guys and they mentioned that they had a video before Mixed Reality that didn't pop off the same way that it did. And here there's this amazing conflation of they had the Mixed Reality technology ironed out, Plus they had Swan, who is this incredible visual artist, and she's just brimming with style. And so you combine that with a game that really lets you sort of express yourself physically in new and exciting ways, and it just clicked. And now I think they're either second or first on top-selling games on Steam overall. just extremely exciting and extremely, and like you said earlier, this is precisely the sort of game that I've also been waiting for. I'm hoping that this sort of heralds the quote-unquote next generation of VR game design. What I really, really like about Beat Saber is how they... Whenever I look at VR games, the first question I usually ask is, why though? Especially coming from having played a ton of games, and also, I kind of tend to overthink things a lot, and so I've deconstructed all of these games, picked up the mechanics, and thought, like, okay, maybe this is what I think this should go in this balance patch, and this is how I think you can keep this thing's character without making them broken, that sort of thing. And with Beat Saber, they've got that awesome fusion of gameplay that sort of justifies the motion controls. And I think those motion controllers are where we need to, sort of as a VR industry, need to start looking, especially if we want to sort of change the meta. I don't know if this is, I get the feeling this is maybe perhaps a slight bias in Western media production, but we tend to view video games as cinematic experiences. very Hollywood, very on rails, like Call of Duty is the prime example. It's pretty much, it's more or less a rail shooter. You get off the rails, you walk through a fairly narrow hallway, but it's got all this amazing explosions and spectacle and stuff like that. But the jump from, we already piloted depth perception as being a game changer. It was not. We got 3D vision, 3D movies, all that stuff. At this point, it's sort of more or less a played out gimmick. It's kind of nice to have, but it doesn't really change a whole lot. And when I got my hands on the Vive, I was less excited by 360 video and the depth perception stuff. That stuff was fairly cool, and there's some really neat things that you can do, especially if you think about the head as both input and output. The real magic is in the motion controllers, especially with the way that they designed the Vive. The controllers, they track so extremely precisely. They actually track faster than most game engines can run right now, and I like to say that it's actually outpacing our ability to design innovative gameplay. The way I look at it is this is our opportunity to revisit everything that flopped in 2007 when the Wii came out. We were promised this amazing motion controls revolution. And then people realized, it was like, oh cool, so you point it and you move it. And then they realized you could play Wii tennis slouching in your couch, waggling from the wrist. This is the thing I refer to as waggle mashing. And it's sort of like, It was a phenomenon that I think more or less killed any sort of, like, hope that people had for good motion-controlled gameplay. Like, it could have been good, but I think the Wii sort of shifts, you know, it broke a lot of ground and it did a lot of amazing things, but with regard to sort of pioneering motion-controlled gameplay, the accelerometers are extremely limited. The error you get and the drift accumulation just makes it impossible to reliably track position. So now that I can, you know, wave the Vive Wand around, you know, juggle it, you know, slap it against my leg, and it'll still be, like, right where it is in the real world, we can now revisit that and be like, oh, all those things that you sort of had to pretend and, you know, suspend disbelief on where you were, you know, swinging a sword or, you know, aiming a large gun or something like that, now we can actually go back and codify those interactions. That's not gonna be perfect, but There's a lot of really cool things that I think people should be exploring more, and Beat Saber are one of the guys that have been exploring it a lot, as well as myself. I actually met a couple other people here and there who caught this wind of like, it's not in the HMD, it's in the Wands, but it's not really something that's caught on.
[00:14:15.861] Kent Bye: One of the things that I would bring up in the context of this conversation is this kind of tension between the quantification and the qualitative experience, especially in something like Beat Saber, because I was really asking the developers about the scoring mechanism, because my observation of both AudioShield and Soundboxing was that the way i wanted to play those games was actually like i was being penalized by the way i was playing it because they had a very specific way that they were trying to get people to play it which was driving this certain behavior so you would have like people punching straight forward and like when you punch straight forward that's like the way to get the most points within soundboxing but yet I would want to have like this creative flair and kind of really move my body around and I found that everybody else's runs that they were making were kind of really optimized for this punching straightforward and it was just like the only runs I was interested in doing were the ones that I had created myself. But the thing that I was really kind of grilling them on the the point system because what I had noticed is that a certain point the leaderboards people start to you know optimize the way that they play the game in order to get to the top of the leaderboard and if they if you sort of like create this incentive structure where you have this we waggle phenomena where you're basically like, you know, I tried to play Beat Saber by just very minimally moving my wrist and seeing like if I could just try to hack the system to try to not do all the movement. And you can actually do like better scores that way, but the direct experience of that doesn't feel as good. And I think that lack of ability to measure and quantify the feeling that you get from moving in a certain way and that maybe the best you can do is maybe encourage people to sort of experiment and just Let go and see what happens and to really get into that rhythm and how they move their body But yet there's a certain amount of qualitative dimension of that which I don't know if you'll ever really be able to sort of put a number onto a and it's more of a performative aspect within BeatSaper, which is how awesome do you look when you're doing it, which is more of like in the Olympics when you have figure skating or snowboarding, where it's less about the purely objective measures, but there's a row of judges who are looking at a set of criteria, and then they are able to take the holistic experience to see there's actually people that are involved.
[00:16:39.909] Chris Woytowitz: There's like a million threads here that I want to pull at. The tension between style and optimal play is something that has like forever been rattling the sabers of game designers for an eternity. It's something that manifests inside and outside of VR. there's always going to be, I guess this is sort of that notion of like, and this is the sort of like non-deconstructed view of I play to win versus I play to have fun. It's obviously, you know, a lot more complicated than that, but what that really means is that the people playing for fun, they're looking for enjoyment outside of strictly winning. And that comes from all sorts of places. I believe there was a... I don't actually know what his background was. I believe he's like a professor in game studies or something like that. This guy named Marc LeBlanc. I'm sure he's done some other famous stuff and I'm probably like being extremely disrespectful not recalling it. But I remember coming across this website he had where he sort of, he said that there were eight kinds of fun, quote-unquote, that you can get out of a game. So it was stuff like, you know, games of sense pleasure, where, you know, there's just like, you know, fancy particle effects or graphics, things like story, things like challenge. But also, you know, he also included submission as one, which was the cookie clicker effect of just doing this simple task that you're consistently rewarded for. Stuff like that. And there are just so many different ways that you can get fun out of a game that, I guess to bring it back to the concept of a quote-unquote competitive game, which, you know, ostensibly Beat Saber, it's, you know, a single-player game and you, you know, you could play it however you want. But like you said, there's, you know, points offer some sort of incentive structure. And it's always less than ideal to put tension between playing for the most points and playing to, you know, feel the coolest. These things, in principle, should be in harmony. And it's just, it's extremely hard to find that balance, and some people, you know, do it better than others. And it causes splits in the community, too. Some people think, like, oh, maybe I'll go to a Smash Bros. tournament to have fun, and then, you know, like, wavedashing, a perfect example of basically a glitch in Super Smash Bros. Melee that allows you to scoot, you basically air dodge into the ground, which causes you to slide along. I believe you have some invincibility frames during it, so it becomes, basically, supersedes walking entirely. You are always moving by air dodging. And it's not particularly fun because it makes you feel, as a beginner, like, oh, my, like, I'm, like, just barely getting the hang of, you know, basic movement and using my abilities. And this guy, like, well, his character looks like a goofball. He's, like, destroying his controller and developing RSI because of these giant springs on the shoulder buttons of the GameCube controller. And there's this frustrating, again, there's tension between playing for style, I say, and playing to win. So I think, with regard to the point on quantification, I think there are probably ways to quantify it. I think they are probably extremely complicated mathematical models. I think if you want to, I'm like, I can't pull off the top of my head an example of like the ideal point system, for example, but
[00:19:53.693] Kent Bye: Well let me just hop in here because I think just in a style point because if you go into the intention of some of these games like some people may be playing to be able to almost solve a puzzle and get to the top of the leaderboard by basically hacking the optimum flow that they need to get in order to hit the cubes at the exact same point at the right velocity and they can basically train their body to go for that and then There's an alternative view, which is that you're trying to invoke a flow state, and a flow state is a sense of ephemeral presence that actually defies any sort of measurement at all. It's a subjective dimension of your qualitative experience. And I think that you can design a gameplay that is trying to evoke a flow state, but that flow state is very fleeting and ephemeral. I mean, it really, like, you can have, like, the different, I think the way that they've set up the scoring structure so that, like, in AudioShield, you just barrel through, you don't have any penalties, and they take an overall average of what you did. And in soundboxing, you take sort of a streak. So the longer streaks you have, the more better you score. So there's this incentive to get into the flow state and have that streak. Well, in Beat Saber, it's a similar thing where they're trying to emphasize the streak nature. But also, if you screw up, you're dead, and you have to start over again. And so it creates this real stakes to really actually learn the mechanics so that you can actually hit enough of the right target so that you can actually make it all the way through. So just even completing a run becomes reward within itself. So I think that the way that they design it is that they do have the points, but they've also designed it so that you have this qualitative experience of a flow state.
[00:21:35.484] Chris Woytowitz: Yeah, yeah, no, that makes a heck of a lot of sense. Yeah, and I think you talk about fleeting and ephemeral. I found out maybe like five or six years ago that I had latent ADHD, that I never got diagnosed. And so like chasing that sort of flow state has, in many facets of my life, has sort of been a recurring theme. But it is really cool when you have a game design that is really engineered to let you get into it. And you can do it in extremely cool ways, like with Beat Saber, just by virtue of if you're in flow, you'll chain block to block to block. your strike on one is already, you know, setting you up for the next one, you've got all of those pieces in place. And you find it even, like, less exciting things, like in Dota or League of Legends, when you're, if you're the carry, you're last hitting creeps. It's a little bit of that submission kind of fun, where you're just, you just kind of got this, like, nice focus on this fairly simple task that, you know, it's slightly dynamic, but it doesn't require a terrible amount of critical thinking. And that's when you sort of like let go of that, I guess, you have to let go of the neuroticism and perfectionism and stuff like that, and just kind of like, because overthinking it is what causes disturbance in that flow state, I think.
[00:22:50.935] Kent Bye: Yeah. So for your game that you're designing, I'm curious to go back to that because as you talk about something like Dota, I've watched the Dota championships and I don't understand what's happening. I mean, I watch and I listen to the commentators, but there's so many different dimensions of like you almost have to know the entire like personalities and the traits and the different strategies that you could do. And then there's a whole like selection process at the beginning that all these different dimensions of strategy, they're at a meta level of the game that You know, again, I think it's something that as you learn the entire ecosystem of knowledge, you kind of start to see how there's these different dimensions of that strategy, but it's a very mental abstraction of that. When I think of VR, I almost think of like, you know, there's... there's some VR games that have been doing real-time strategy and various stuff like that and they tend to also use a lot of the buttons and just a lot of just abstractions and I find that like the abstractions in VR actually kind of put me into a mental state that is not in my body and that there will be puzzles and there will be strategy like that but to You know, something like Beat Saber, for example, is actually sort of the first time that I've seen like a really satisfying way of combining that mental puzzle with the embodied solving of that puzzle, because you have to actually use your body to solve the puzzle, but you have to be able to perceive and actually have a situational awareness. And then the more you do it, you have more of that awareness. But I'm just curious how you, like you seem as somebody who is very into the strategy and sort of the game, you're a pure gamer who likes expressing your agency and the challenge of figuring out that strategy. So how do you translate that to VR?
[00:24:24.442] Chris Woytowitz: Yeah, I think it's really interesting. I kind of look at VR as being more or less just kind of a different peripheral in lieu of a traditional Xbox game pad or a keyboard and mouse. The big difference being that the monitor is different. It's a monitor where you can look in any which way. For example, in desktop shooters, your gun is tied to your head most of the time. There are other genres of game where that's not the case, but it's certainly something that definitely sets a VR shooter apart from a desktop shooter. I guess, so we're talking about the flow states and the strategy and stuff like that. The way Lightstrike is designed is that there is some level of abstraction, but there can be higher-level single-game or metagame-wide levels of abstraction, but when you get all the way down to, you know, I'm in a game, I'm fighting, I'm playing, there can still be those elements of flow. And the way Lightstrike Array is designed is it's designed to have a little bit of an ebb and flow, which is something that I think makes Dota really exciting, especially as a spectator sport. Some parts of Dota are extremely boring, and the commentators will use it to, you know, fill you in on like, oh, so here's what the matchup looks like. I think Dire or Radiant has this advantage because these guys have shown that, you know, outshone them, and so they pat it with some sort of content either about the game or the players. but there's a nice sort of, it is a rhythm to some degree, but it's not quite as predictable as, for example, in a rhythm game, of sort of upcoming teamfights. There is a concept of tempo. So in a MOBA, you have phases in which you're avoiding fights, trying to farm creeps on the map to get gold, get items, get levels, and then you have teamfights where people, you know, break out of the lanes and some sort of fight breaks out, because obviously killing an enemy hero is better than killing an enemy creep. And that sort of gives you a little bit of breathing room in which you can, you know, relax your focus, relax parts of your overthinking parts of the brain, and then you can sort of burst it during a team fight. So if you think about, you know, the difference between, like, if you've ever played an MMO, there's, you know, there's always things about, like, oh, this guy's, damage over time damage dealer or DPS and then there's the concept of a burst DPS who sort of like deals all of their damage, you know, they over time they don't necessarily put as much but they can sort of centralize all of it so like if you break guard or something like that on a boss or like you break off their armor Like in Final Fantasy XI, like the Black Mage is a classic burst DPS because his stuff, you know, he blows like half his mana pool, does a ton of damage all at once, and that can be... Those sorts of moments are, I think, what are centrally exciting. Flow is good and satisfying, especially in the context... I know in a recent podcast, you were talking with... I forget what his name is, but you guys were talking about watching... I think you guys brought up Echo Arena at some point. I could be wrong here, but... So what I see with Echo Arena, I see a couple things. One is that the people on stage are not particularly exciting to watch. And that's more or less sort of, I guess, a product of the game's design. But I guess it was, perhaps it wasn't readily apparent to people that the way that a gamer looked would matter much more, in meatspace that is, a VR professional gamer, is going to have a lot more eyes on his actual body than if he were sitting behind a mouse and keyboard and monitor. And I think, especially if we want to make VR esports something cool and exciting to watch, we need to make sure that people playing these games are actually, like, using their bodies in interesting ways. It wasn't, you know, necessarily a thing we had to worry about before, but now it's especially apparent because, like we were talking about earlier, mixed reality is one of the best ways to show the appeal and satisfaction of being in VR. So the way I think about designing, you know, the weapons and tools and light strike array is my, I have this motto, which is that point and click is for mouse and keyboard. So I don't have any hitscan guns in the game. I have a sort of an array of weapons starting with a very basic level of bow is a perfect example of a pretty accessible weapon that is also quite nice and physical. There's some really cool things you can do with the haptics and there's really a, you know, it's intuitive. Everybody knows how to shoot a bow. But then we can start exploring other interesting physical controls, and I think this is in part because of how I grew up. I grew up watching a fair amount of anime and also playing a lot of anime-inspired games. I've also taken martial arts growing up, and perhaps one of the more interesting things about fantasies that you see out of Japanese anime is that a lot of them involve these ridiculously exaggerated attacks. Like you think of, you know, the Kamehameha in Dragon Ball, or you think of, you know, like Naruto where they're like jumping through the trees and, you know, doing crazy, you know, hand signs and things like that. There's all sorts of... I've always wanted to sort of, like, there's all sorts of things that I have watched in anime that I have yet to be able to experience in VR. I have yet to, you know, like, omni-slash somebody, for example, you know, jump in the air, and I get extremely motion sick, so maybe this is a terrible example, but, like, you know, I've yet to be able to do those, like, dramatically, you know, crash-from-the-heavens sorts of anime-inspired things, but there's all sorts of other stuff, like, you know, just even, like, a good-feeling Hadouken. Not the sort of like, I don't know if you've used Hado before, but that was the sort of like AR, it's much sort of cheaper. Oh yeah, I think I did it at SEVR, yeah. Yeah, that one's sort of like, again going back to the waggle mashing thing, it's kind of an interesting game design for the technology that it uses, but you're sort of like flailing your wrist around trying to punch things. I like the concept of good form. I like the concept of somebody moving their body in a way like a dancer or a martial artist would that shows that they know some quote-unquote magical thing that they can do with their body that, you know, because you have not practiced it, it looks amazing, you know, like... Yeah, like, dance is a fantastic example. Even things like, I guess, like professional wrestling, another good example of, like, people being able to sort of, like, do really, really cool things by virtue of waving their arms around. You put that in anime, you've got, they sort of attach all these magical effects and things to that to sort of, you know, balance out for the fact that, you know, hand-to-hand combat is no longer the optimal way to fight. So, you know, like, if you need to beat a gun, well, then maybe you shoot laser beams out of your hands, but you have to do this intricate, careful, you know, you have to make this sort of sign, it's this big exaggerated gesture that sort of, like, ideally, you know, it should read well on a stage, it should take up a lot of space. I've played with a whole bunch of these. So, like, for example, I have my intermediate quote-unquote weapon right now is this sword that's inspired by Cloud from Final Fantasy VII. And he has this limit break called Blade Beam, where he just Swings the sword and he cuts this beam of light in the air and it shoots out for it. It's completely, you know, like, it's completely artificial, like nobody's ever used a sword like that. I don't know who first came up with the idea. Something similar like this is in Zelda as well, you know, you're full health, you swing the sword, you get a projectile out there. I wanted to codify this in VR as sort of a new type of combat interaction. So the way it's basically set up is is I have a purely motion-controlled sword that, if you just kind of swing it around normally, you can one-hit KO an adjacent player. But if you sort of, like, let your, like, wrist lax, and you quote-unquote, like, drag it against the ether, the haptics kick in, the sound happens, you start carving this beam of light out in front of you, and it takes a little bit of practice to aim well, but it ends up sort of having almost shotgun-like rules, but almost in a sort of a one-dimensional thing. Basically, I don't know if you've seen the gif on Twitter, but it's, uh, basically you sort of paint it. And then when your stroke is complete, it flies out forward. And it's a much more deeply satisfying interaction than, you know, just simply like, you know, twisting your wrist and pulling a trigger, which you can make satisfying through, you know, sound and visuals. But, you know, it's got its own sort of like, it gets old after a little bit a while. The sort of most complex thing I talked about Naruto earlier, I have a a tool where you basically, there are basically six signs that you can make with your hand. If I could just stand up for a moment. There is the soldier, the dancer, the bouncer, the healer, the merchant, and the ranger.
[00:32:43.500] Kent Bye: Can you run through those again and describe what you're doing?
[00:32:45.701] Chris Woytowitz: So, there are six signs, which are sort of the alphabet for the spell casting of a specific weapon called the Focus. And it's meant to be a support weapon, takes a little bit of inspiration from Invoker in Dota, who has more spells than your average hero, but, you know, is kind of hard to use because you have to punch in a whole bunch of, like, you basically have to play like Mavis Beacon for a little bit to get the right spell out of your spellbook. So for these spells, there's six signs. The soldier is one hand over the other vertically, kind of like you're holding a spear to the air. Dancer is similar, but your hands are further apart, kind of like you're holding a pole, like a pole dancer would. Bouncer, your arms are crossed side to side, so this is the interlateral pose. Healer, your arms are out wide like you're welcoming a crowd, giving a big hug. The last two are sort of front-back, so like if I'm looking forward, one hand is in front of the other. Merchant, you basically are holding one hand in front with your palm up, like you're holding a bag of gold. Your other hand is behind, kind of like you're reaching into your cloak, pulling out a dagger. And finally, there is Ranger, which is a bit like you're holding a bow with one hand and drawing an arrow from your back. This is very much contrived JRPG bullshit. There's absolutely no reason I should be using these things. However, there is something really satisfying about— like, building games are all about arbitrary difficulty. There's this weird tension, like, if you're building a product for somebody, like, it's a no-brainer, it needs to be as easy to use as possible. If you're building a game, that is not always the case. Perhaps if the main hook of your game is a story or a cinematic experience, yeah, it needs to be super, super easy to use. But if you're making a game like Beat Saber that really challenges you to use your body in new ways, or if you're making, you know, like I'm making, a hyper-physical competitive game where the very, like, things are balanced, mindful of the amount of body movement that you have to do to get them to work. there are all these interesting trade-offs to consider with regard to, like, okay, so, like, this is fiddly, but that's not inherently bad. You want to reward players for putting that extra effort into doing something wacky. So that's one facet of it. There's another facet of it which plays back into esports, which is that Especially when you have too much flow in a game, you begin to realize that some sports are only exciting when things go horribly wrong. I was watching, like, a montage reel, I think, of the F1 Amsterdam Grand Prix the other day, and there were, like, I don't know, like, 10, 12 different accidents in that thing. But, like, if you're watching, like, there's some, like, real, like, specific technical merits that you can get out of watching, you know, a perfect game of, you know, NASCAR or F1 or something like that. But with regard to spectacle, what gets people excited is uncertainty and suspense. And when you make things more complicated, you sort of artificially insert these little air bubbles into the flow where you can cause errors. And when errors happen, everybody gets on the edge of their seat. So that was sort of the philosophy here with the way that I've been designing LSA, and I think if there was one message I could get out to people, it would be to, like, not be quite so afraid of making things hard for your user. Like, there's, you know, there's good hard and bad hard, but there's also Nintendo hard, which is that, you know, that innate satisfaction of something that, you know, sucked the first 10 times you did it, but now that you got it right, you feel like a badass. There's all that stuff that I think we could capture in VR, just simply by exploring the ways that we can read motion controls as input. Because we've solved buttons and all the, like, we've introduced artificial difficulty to, you know, basic button-based controllers. For example, like, you know, like the Shenmue mash A repeatedly to, you know, break down the door before it burns down, I don't know, that sort of quick time event thing. It introduces a sudden moment of adrenaline rush and that do or die crisis chance moment. The intersection of those sorts of moments with moving your body in dramatic ways is really, really... I think that's what's going to make VR esports exciting to watch, is that intersection.
[00:36:51.017] Kent Bye: Yeah, and the thing that that reminds me of is just this, you know, looking at how music works, how story works, how good game design works, is that there's this tension between the consonants and the dissonance between this rhythm that you refer to, but that there are these, you know, like PUBG or Fortnite, it's like a walking simulator. You're walking around and you're looting and it's like, It's not all that interesting, you know, but it's a downtime that allows the Twitch streamers to be able to connect with their audience, to be able to connect to their friends that they're playing with, to like, allow them to sort of just talk and to connect to each other. And I think that, and then all of a sudden, you know, you stop whatever you're talking about and there's a fight that breaks out and you have to go attend to that. And then that can be, you know, at any moment, you know, the whole course of this journey could be completely disrupted and you could have a turn of the entire experience in a matter of a couple of moments. And I think that, That is that suspense, that is that live moment of just trying to see what happens and how people react when that happens. And I do agree that there is this dimension of the body and embodiment. And it might have been Jon Root that I was talking about eSports and VR because there is this dimension of how things look aesthetically. And when I saw the people playing the game of the Echo Arena, it was utterly boring and I wouldn't watch these people. And I think, to a certain extent, the fact that Oculus decided to put all of these buttons on their controllers means that there's all of these abstractions that you're doing, even unspoken, which try to do a little bit of this spellcraft of you doing these different motions, like, there were still quite a lot of buttons that, you know, if you have those buttons, you could, you know, relegate the gameplay mechanics to that. And I had a direct embodied experience of sort of going through this, solving puzzles with my body through Beat Saber. And it was like frustrating and hard and I was like I would it took me a couple of days even just to finish a complete Expert run, you know after putting like 40 hours and audio shield and over 50 hours and in soundboxing It was like I've done a lot of rhythm games but there was still something like the way that this design was made was that I had to be able to cultivate a sense of awareness and perceiving in my body that I Each time I played it, I could see progression. Like the game progression curve was that I was actually becoming more aware of the environment and I was actually becoming more sensitive and to be able to discern the patterns that were coming at me. And it just felt like just that alone was like, wow, I feel like I'm a badass now that I'm able to actually like, do a complete run of an expert mode. It's like that is an achievement that I feel like I had to work to earn. So I think that allowing people that struggle of that dissonance and consonance in those puzzles is that you have to allow people to be in that dissonance of being able to have the hope that they're gonna eventually sort of break through and become victorious without creating it so impossible or so hard or so overly complicated that they're never gonna be able to overcome the cognitive load limitations of being able to ever figure it out.
[00:39:51.593] Chris Woytowitz: Yeah, no, that's that's absolutely the that's I suppose that's the the easy to learn hard to master thing that everybody always talks about and That's that is the that sort of sense of mastery. It's just so it's deeply gratifying especially when you you get a taste for it and then it can be it can be a little bit addicting I guess The way that I have looked at that with regard to LSA, especially in the context of it being an esport, is I really like the idea, and this is something I really like about Dota 2 as well, is that there are like 100 plus heroes in that game right now. nobody is reasonably expected to sort of, like, have a mastery over every single hero in that game. And each of those heroes has enough depth and nuance that, you know, you could spend, you know, you could spend, you know, a couple months just drilling it, mastering it, playing it in pubs, that sort of thing. But what's cool about that is that because the design is broad in the sense that there are a lot of options for you to choose from there, but also each of those options has sufficient depth into it that there's enough to master, An optimal team needs to have a whole bunch, each of those players needs to be responsible for very different things. There's a lot of asymmetric teamwork that happens there. It's not sort of a matter of like, oh, this guy is, you know, you know, slightly, you know, faster with his legs, so, you know, we put him in this position on the field. It's more like, this guy thinks like this, so he is the best suited for a support player. This guy is, you know, is just like a one track mind. We put him on carry, he farms, we protect him, he wins the game for us. I really love that. celebration of diversity, and feeling that I am one of the few people that have mastered, you know, this hero, or this fighter, or this weapon, or this playstyle. And because it's not a one-on-one game where you inevitably have tier lists where, you know, yeah, there are a bunch of options, but, you know, really, like, you should be playing Fox Cheek or Marth, right? Because it's a team game and nobody can pick duplicates, it forces out all those, like, eccentricities in the players and all the weird heroes and weird abilities and weird situations, and you feel like there's a time where you feel like, I feel important on this team and I feel like I have contributed something special and there was no way we could have won, you know, without, well, everybody else, but I felt like I had a direct hand in that. And that's one of the things that I think that I'm really excited to see more people explore, this notion of asymmetric teamwork in VR. I guess this is perhaps maybe a too overarching of a theme, but I think that that's a natural result of the fact that VR is kind of expensive to get into right now. Both the development and the consumer culture are kind of homogenous, at least compared to regular, like mainstream gaming. Mainstream gaming is wonderfully diverse at this point, I think, technically speaking, more women play than men. We've got mobile games, we've got hardcore PC gamers, we've got console gamers, we've got tens of, perhaps hundreds of genres out there, all these weird mashups. We've got, you know, the speedrunning community, we've got the FGC, we've got, like, simulator enthusiasts, and we got streamers, and we got all these amazing sort of different Things coming in, but that's in part facilitated by the fact that Nintendo 2DS I think is like 80 bucks right now. The Switch is 300, it's not the cheapest thing in the world, but it is, fairly speaking, cheap. You could buy like 8 of them for the cost of a decent VR laptop and a Vive right now. And it's a little bit of a chicken-and-egg problem in VR right now, because the demographic is a little bit more concentrated. It tends to be slightly older, slightly whiter, slightly more, I guess, bougie, if you will. Definitely slightly more male.
[00:43:30.972] Kent Bye: Predominantly male.
[00:43:31.773] Chris Woytowitz: Yeah. Yeah, and that's that's also something that mainstream gaming, you know deals with a little bit too Especially when you when you get to you know, the different sort of sub communities But yes And as a result of that sort of like well all the consumers are of this stereotype all the developers are of this stereotype they've so far spent a lot of time making games for themselves and But, like, you go on, like, R-Vive, for example, and we're still having this crazy, like, false dichotomy debate about, like, free locomotion versus teleport locomotion, and everybody's, you know, got their, like, crazy hot takes and, you know, very strong opinions on it. But, like, the fact of the matter is there are a whole bunch of people that sort of look at stuff like that, and or, you know, they've tried a single bad experience, either, you know, maybe it had bad interference in the setup, or maybe it was like a, you know, poorly designed, it wasn't mindfully designed game, where, you know, you put a little bit of that vestibular disconnect in there, and people think, alright, I guess VR just isn't for me. And you have to wonder, like, how many, just how many people are out there, like, are not sort of, like, thinking about VR, just because of that one bad experience, how long do we have to wait before we come back to people like that? I guess I want to avoid sort of like, I hope that the VR industry is more mindful of the differences in different people and what appeals to different people, because yes, VR is expensive, and you can think of it as having a barrier to entry, but Like, people put up with Windows for the longest freaking time because there was good stuff on Windows. People, you can either lower the barrier to entry, which is very important, or you can give people a reason to, you know, climb a 10-foot wall. And I think there needs to be a little bit more risk-taking, especially in, like, appealing to other demographics that wouldn't normally would, you know, dismiss VR. Like, I think especially in, like, competitive gaming communities, there's a lot of sort of, like, cynicism about VR. Because we've sort of saw the first wave of stuff that came out, and, you know, it's like, this isn't anywhere near, like, as deep as Smash. Everything is, you know, a tactical military simulator, or Paddle Ball, or Room Escape, that sort of thing. And we can change that. We have the power to change that, but, like, it's sort of, I guess it's kind of, it is a hard problem, because, you know, people don't want to fund, people don't really want to fund risky things, people don't want to... Yeah, I think you see where I'm getting at here.
[00:45:56.297] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think there's also a whole... Like, the conversation I was having with Denny Unger was about, you know, how there's been an emphasis of, like, the top-tier AAA games where a lot of the innovation is happening on this middle tier. I mean, I think the Beat Saber was developed by just three developers, so it's just amazing, you know, what people who are really dedicated to this craft can pull off in terms of, like, creating this amazing, holistic experience, which is... you know, by and far one of the best VR experiences I've played, you know, compared to people who have had much more resources and team and, you know, but it's just something that can be quite simple. But the thing that I'm really sort of taking away towards, you know, looking at Dota as this metaphor of this diverse community of different, I guess I would say like temperaments, of people who have different sort of temperaments for fun, of the way that they like to have fun. and they're going to go and express these different roles and maybe to some degree the joy of watching these Dota matches is that you get to understand the different combinations of those different temperaments of how they work together and what those different heroes mean and how their different skills are kind of playing out in different ways, and maybe if somebody is at the archetypal expression of the most ideal expression of what this hero could do, and really pushing that to the limits of that character, and you get to see that in action when they have to make a decision in a moment. So what that looks like in VR, I have no idea. I guess, you know, to a certain extent, I could sort of put the question to you of, like, what would you imagine that? Like, what do you personally want to experience in VR? Like, what would the quality of that experience feel like?
[00:47:30.735] Chris Woytowitz: Yeah, so I think that, yeah, there are a lot of uniquely VR designs that are, you know, sitting out there waiting to be found. So, like, I can rattle off a few, but I highly encourage everybody to just get out there, just like, to quote Cave Johnson, throw science at the wall and see what sticks. So, the way that I designed Lightstrike Array, for example, I knew that there would be a lot of people in the game that would be more or less confrontational than other people. So if you're, you know, a direct confrontation sort of person, you pick up the bow or the sword, which is sort of like a purely combative tool. But if you're not confrontational and you kind of like that sort of submissive flow, the... Not even necessarily like a, like a... You'll have to fight eventually as a carry in a MOBA, but in the core game mode, heartbreak for Lightstriker Ray. there's this resource called salt which is sort of sprinkled throughout the level and one person sort of basically you want to collect salt and it'll unlock more tools for your team and eventually you can unlock a tool which allows you to make a run on the enemy base. At the start, though, you basically have a bow and this thing called the vial. And the vial is simply a... it's basically a basket. It lets you hold multiple salt cubes at once. And what this affords is that people that are less confrontational, instead of, you know, picking up the bow for more combat, they can grab the vial and just be the guy more or less picking flowers for the team. They don't have their own set of skills they need to master. Like, if you want to be an efficient miner, you need to be really good at my locomotion system, which is this wacky-ass, contrived, skill-driven, zero-nausea thing where you throw a torch from one place in the level to the other and turn around and catch it. And the better that you get at that motion, the more efficiently you go through the level. And you can just sort of, like, slip right through the salt bed and go pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck, and then get out before anybody even noticed. And you didn't have to pick a fight with anybody. You slipped right through, you did your thing, you got out, and you're contributing to the team in the same way that the guy who you didn't notice, but he prevented somebody from ganking you because he was waiting right behind you with the sword. from, you know, interrupting your flow. I really love that sort of, so there's, so I guess in that sense there's that asymmetry between people that are more and less confrontational in VR. There are people that are competitive, but they don't like shit-talking. They do like, you know, like for example leaderboards in like Beat Saber, or they like speed running, but they don't necessarily like the sort of like, you know, anxiety and uncertainty of like, oh, is he gonna swing left or swing right? Am I gonna need to, you know, block or dodge? That sort of thing. I'm trying to think off the top of my head. There are people that like more and less technical weapons. Some people, I would postulate, like people with ADHD like me, we need to fidget with stuff. And so having weapons or tools or interactions that are a little bit contrived, maybe you have to flip up the switch before you push the button, or you gotta turn the dials one way or the other before the thing clicks in. Like, having the option to let people that like more technical interactions, give them a way to accomplish similar objectives. So like, like I was talking about an invoker in Dota, like, he has 10 spells instead of 4, but he basically has 3 letters, Quaswex and Exsort, and you have to basically hit a bunch of them and then hit the invoke button and it, you know, sort of the gears turn, it spits out the spell that you asked for. It's needlessly complicated, and Invoker is technically roughly in line balance-wise with all the rest of the heroes in your game. And so people might at first glance think, why is he so contrived? Why is that necessary? And there are people out there that just enjoy that. It gives them a way to both have personal fun, but also let them express to other people, hey, I have this unique skill, like, I can, you know, micromanage heroes, or I can, you know, you know, quickly shuffle through Invoker's spell list, or I can, I'm really clutch with spell steals, or something like that. It gives them a way to feel really good about something that makes them uniquely themselves. Yeah, I don't know where... There's all sorts of places you can look for... I guess at the end of the day, I would say that if we want to... We can do all this stuff in VR. Nothing's stopping us. We just gotta sort of take a little bit more inspiration from the broader sphere of gaming, I would think. With regard to physicality, I guess, which is a little bit VR. Yeah, some people are going to want to be more physical than others, so maybe one of your classes has something more like a point-and-click movement system. I hesitate a little bit to say like, oh yeah, have a class that teleports and have a class that has free locomotion, because that one, like free locomotion can be like a hard gate. A lot of people can really feel like, oh there's like, because I'm easily made motion sick, this will never be for me. And I think it's better to have people at least look at things and be like, oh yeah, I think I could do that. I don't particularly feel like it, but if I wanted to, I could figure that thing out. But that's still a good example of being able to make people feel special and unique. Yeah.
[00:52:37.400] Kent Bye: Yeah, and it sounds like that you're looking at a lot of the game design principles of both, you know, mainstream gaming, but also, like, just VR gaming in general, and trying to come up with almost like these, your own sort of experiential design frameworks. Are there any books or other resources that you have found particularly, like, insightful, or has your, you know, synthesis really come from just having a lot of embodied experiences with just a lot of games?
[00:53:03.165] Chris Woytowitz: I think it's having some sort of embodied experiences. I don't know if they're necessary. I'm trying to rack my brain and think about books. Full disclosure, I've never read Ready Player One, so I don't have any of that.
[00:53:19.108] Kent Bye: more of like game design books, you know, like the theory of game design, because we're talking about like these sort of, the things you're talking about here is more about, and I think the challenge with game design is that, I did an interview with John Blow and it was at an AI conference and one of the things that they said, someone asked him like, what game design book do you recommend? He's like, well, there is really not really a great one. And I think there's a little bit of the reason is because game design is a little bit about Experiential design and when you talk about experiential design you have to then come up with a model of reality that describes all the dimensions of Experiences and I think that you know, I've been trying to come with my sort of experiential design But just in the wider game design community There's different models and ways to really kind of break down these different Systems and it seems like you're someone who's thinks deeply about all that
[00:54:03.793] Chris Woytowitz: Yeah, no, that's, I think that's just, yeah, that's me being a neurotic. I also do not have a book recommendation. It might exist out there somewhere. I would love to read a book with a bunch of, you know, case studies about, well, I guess at the end of the day the book would basically be case studies about, you know, for example, Splatoon had this goal in which they knew that they wanted ink on surfaces and that people could swim through them. They had no idea what, you know, visual style it would take. They had no idea, you know, what They didn't know the kids were going to be squids from the start. They messed around with all sorts of terrible ideas before it finally clicked. Any book on this topic would basically be a bunch of case studies about people that wanted to make players feel a certain way, and then designed every facet of that game to realize that. I think, like, most Nintendo games are required reading in this circumstance. Nintendo is especially good, they have a lot of privilege in that they can design a system in a game at the same time. Gabe Newell talked about being jealous of Nintendo for this very reason. That's an entire reason that, you know, the Knuckles have not yet been released. is because Valve are, you know, they're leaving them, you know, in an uncollapsed wave state until they found this is the experience we want to make, this is the controller that we need to make that, and also, you know, fits the, you know, the minimum energy between all the other things that they want to make. So, anything Nintendo, like, especially the, like, weird ones. And even things on Nintendo devices, like I talk about, playing The World Ends With You, but only for the DS. Not for the iPad, not for the thing, because on the DS, they basically had two different combat systems, one on a touchscreen, and one played with the buttons on the other screen. And it was needlessly complicated, like most interesting things are. It's just little, little stuff like that. So yeah, so Nintendo games, I would say a lot of indies have done some interesting stuff. There are some platformers that do interesting things, but I think there are also people that play with, like, especially weird concepts, and oftentimes these games are not necessarily commercially successful because, you know, their grasp exceeded grasp. I remember, I think there was a RTS that involved time loops and time travel. I think it was called Arkon or something like that, and I thought that was kind of a really interesting way that people played with it. But all these sort of mechanics, I guess the lesson here at a high level is that the systems design and the input design and the mechanical design of your game are first-class citizens of the design of your game, just as much as the story, the graphics, the audio, all of that stuff is. And especially in VR, I would hammer down the point that, and this is true in normal games as well, movement system design is undivorceable from gameplay design. One of the things that I liked in your interview with Cloudhead was that they talked about like, yeah, we played with free locomotion, we played with having these options, but at the end of the day, you know, Call of the Starseed was what it was. It was, you know, a beautiful experience and it made the blink system, which was their point and click teleport thing, just made the most sense in the world. At the end of the day, options are alright, but bespoke designs are what you want to go for, and you've got to design the entire stack. So don't think about, like, I want to make Call of Duty in VR. Think more like, I want to make people experience a war zone, perhaps, or I want to make people, you know, experience, you know, the thrill of dance or getting in flow, like in a rhythm game, and then sort of trace your steps back all the way to the user. Okay, like, think like, okay, what visuals do I need to convey this feeling? What haptics do I need? What audio? What agency systems do I need to let them explore the sandbox that I have created for them? And there's all sorts of, I guess, like, if I wanted to sort of like kickstart thinking in that way, I would say, like you said, like, the fact that the touch controller has all these buttons on it, you know, made people get comfortable with making more Xbox traditional game style designs on that thing, to the point where like Lucky's Tale 2 isn't in VR, right? Or it was like, it's like an Xbox One, like, exclusive. Like, and that was a launch title for the Oculus, like, that was, that is precisely the direction we don't want to be going in. We want to be looking at all those little things about the controllers and the HMD that are only possible in VR, and look at that in every level, not just the visual level. Look at it at the, you know, the hand manipulation and the haptic feedback, all that stuff.
[00:58:38.152] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?
[00:58:46.173] Chris Woytowitz: Yeah, so I'm not a hyper-futurist that believes that VR is going to, you know, replace everything. You know, there are people out there like that. I very much have always seen VR as a tool. I've seen it as an extremely cool tool with a lot of very cool applications, many of which we don't even know right now. But people are actually doing a fairly good job, especially outside of gaming, of exploring what VR can be used for. I think at the end of the day, VR's not gonna kill print. It's gonna get cheaper, it's going to get more ubiquitous. We're not going to, you know, we're probably not going to end up at the Matrix, but I think that we are probably, you know, at some point, people are gonna have a VR headset and use it perhaps the same way they do a console, or maybe not quite, like, it might... Be as ubiquitous as a computer but things are gonna have to get like so extremely light and so extremely portable that it's not necessarily something that is sort of like on my radar at this point like so like I think that the I guess the hard sci-fi future of VR is still very exciting because there's all this stuff that we can explore we will definitely have VR eSports at some point and but it won't be, you know, it won't be, you know, a Blitzball port. You know, it'll probably look something more like a Probe Ending from Legend of Korra, where we have people doing, you know, badass martial arts on stage, maybe they got their wireless HMDs and, like, optimal plays doing backflips or something like that. That's one possible future. Maybe we get to that, like, my brain frames everything in the terms of, like, anime fights, and we get all these, like, dramatic things that would be... Like, perhaps VR is the way that gaming and the stuck-up people at the Olympics bridge that gap. Like, I know they were very dismissive of, I think, some of the violent tendencies of previous video games and stuff like that, and there's a very interesting discussion there, and there's a lot of bullshit, but there's also a lot of good media interrogation we could be doing there. But I think it has amazing applications inside and outside of gaming. And we have yet to fully be like water. We have yet to fully expand to fill the container that VR affords us. It's not going to be the only container and the only medium in the long run, but it will be prevalent, and it will be really freaking cool.
[01:01:06.235] Kent Bye: Awesome. And is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say?
[01:01:12.508] Chris Woytowitz: I guess not. Throw money at underprivileged people is pretty much the last thing I would want to throw out there. That's how you get this sort of innovation. So, yeah.
[01:01:22.416] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast.
[01:01:25.038] Chris Woytowitz: Yeah, thank you so much, Kent. Pleasure to meet you.
[01:01:27.296] Kent Bye: So that was Chris Weidowitz. He's the creator of Light Array VR, and he's been thinking a lot about esports and VR as well as game design within virtual reality. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, I was really struck by Chris in terms of his background as a gamer, a hardcore gamer doing these intense strategy games. like dota 2 and there's a certain ethic of him and his friends where they were looking at the different gameplay that was being afforded within virtual reality and it was okay for a little bit for them but it wasn't like deep like there's other deep gameplays and other games that are out there It sounds like with Dota there's like hundreds of different types of characters, they have different temperamental balances, but also temperament is a huge thing in terms of what type of things that you as a player like to do. And I think that the challenge with some of the games that are out there in VR is that it's been very sort of monolithic in terms of the temperamental expressions and explorations that they've been able to do. It's like basically a first-person shooter and everybody's basically doing the same mechanic. And so what he's trying to do with Light Array VR is trying to create these balances of other temperamental balances of the people who are more young, expressive agency of confrontation. And those are the more warrior people. And then the people who are the minors are in more of the yin embodied, submissive types of experiences that there's things that people can have different flow states. And it's not about you directly confronting other people. more about you getting into an embodied sense of presence that is actually doing something that's mining a resource of salt that's going to be able to help the team overall. And that was really interesting to hear, like the different temperamental combinations of both in terms of the style of play of how people want to play it in order to have fun, but also how you create that interactions in those game plays, but also as in a team context, how you work together as a team to be able to balance all those different temperaments and go against other people who have different temperamental balances. And so the eight different types of fun from Matt LeBlanc again, where again, the fire element of active presence of the discovery and self-expression, the air elements of the social mental presence of the fellowship and the challenge and the fantasy, the earth element of embodied presence of the sensations that you have in your body, but also the submission, being able to really get into those flow states of a much more of embodied experience. And then finally, the water element of the narrative of what is the story that may be engaging you. And so overall, there's this balance between those expressive of outward expression of agency of both the air and fire, where you're going out and exploring or interacting or engaging in direct conflict, and then the ones who are more inward or receiving or just sort of getting into more of an embodied game state play. And this is the thing that also sort of mirrors the quantification versus the quality of the experience where both the air and fire tends to be much more quantifiable in ways that the gameplay is emphasizing that. And I think that there's qualitative aspects of both the emotional and embodied gameplay of whether or not it's a sensory experience or submission or narrative where it's much more about the quality of experience that you're having. Those are the people who are playing for fun rather than playing to win. So there is this tension in game design and in life where you're trying to balance the competitive aspects of you playing against other people, but also you just getting into a certain flow state of being that is much more about your direct experience. And to try to quantify that, I think, is typical to the process of actually getting into those states, which is sort of the paradoxical thing, is that once you try to start to quantify or put numbers onto that flow state, then that can actually take you outside of that flow state. So one of the things I've actually been experimenting with Beat Saber is just turning off the scoring system altogether because I found myself like getting upset and it was sort of like I would be really trying to get the highest score that I had had. There's something that is great for being able to have the scoring system in Beat Saber for example that is allowing you and encouraging you to get into those flow states but as soon as it starts to be a distraction of you doing it because of that then it may be you're getting away from the actual, you know, intent of the final causation of you trying to actually just reach, you know, a place of being. And so maybe experiment with turning off the scoring system. And I imagine that you'll probably get some of your highest scores that you've had because you start to not think about it. So it's a little bit of like this interesting balance and tension between playing for fun and playing for the high score. that I've personally been experiencing and I've talked about in different interviews, but I think that the way that Chris articulated it is something that is a challenge within game design for how do you create these different experiences in games where you're able to not worry about the quantification of things but create and cultivate the different quality of that experience. And in terms of thinking about game design, that's what Chris said, is that you have to start with first of that experience that you want people to have. And sometimes you generate the entire platform like Nintendo did in order to create that experience, or with Valve and the Knuckles controller, they're trying to control all the different dimensions of the hardware in order to cultivate and curate these specific qualities of experience. So I think embodiment in general is going to be a huge thing within virtual reality and it's not quantifiable in certain ways. It's something that you are getting embodied into your body and it's more of like the experience that you have within of yourself. So to try to turn that into a number or to try to basically create the context around the game that allows you to get into that state of flow I think is the trajectory and direction that I see. The other really fascinating thing about what Chris is doing is that he's pulling in all these different other cultures in terms of the anime and the different movements and poses that people are doing with their bodies in order to like Actually like activate these different spells and that there's something that can be satisfying just from the process of you doing these different motions that allows you to have that experience within VR and so he said that like you know normally when you're creating an application you try to make it as easy as possible but in game design you actually create like arbitrarily difficult problems and challenges for people to solve because that's part of the fun of playing the game is that you start to master these different skills that may not be transferable to anything out in the world but i'd say like i'd argue actually the thing that we're doing in vr now is actually we're cultivating this deep sense of body wisdom and awareness and central perceptions that VR is actually maybe creating these skills within our body that may have different applications that may transfer out into our lives. And so it may be more than just creating arbitrarily difficult challenges for people to do. But in the context of a game, you have to like master something that is not insignificant and is going to make it the people who have put in more of the time to be able to master these different skills should have some sort of competitive advantage over people who are not. And so I think that's the challenge of how to figure out these different embodied types of movements and gameplays within VR that's going to make it fun for people to really express themselves. And then eventually, once we get this mixed reality and really set up and figure out how to blend some of these other insights from these games like Dota 2, where you have this temperamental balance, where it's like a team sport that is able to have these waxing and waning of the tempo of things where there's intense action that is matched with something where there's a lot of downtime. I mean, if you look at any sport that's out there, I mean, you have like baseball and, you know, even football, there's a lot of time and a lot of downtime. And so you have this balance between you watching the action, but then being able to like be around your friends and be able to connect to them in different ways. And you see games like Player Unknown Battleground, as well as Fortnite, these walking simulators, where there's a lot of this downtime, where you have this tempo, where you have these unexpected battles that come out, and then you're supposed to, you know, kind of launch into these, different conflicts that arise and that he said that you know part of the spectacle of watching a sport is this Unexpected moment as you have no idea when there's gonna be this peak experience of this Going from something that is calm into something that is very exciting And so you have this it's not like you go in and it's like non-stop like intensity it's like there's a lot of just boring downtime and So you have this uncertainty and suspense that is being able to be developed within that. And that is the essence of the consonance and dissonance that happens in storytelling, that happens in music, where you have the balance between harmony and dissonance, where you're going back and forth between these two different polarities. And as we experience those different polarities, it gives us this sense of time. And it's that sense of time that makes it an experience to go experience this drama that is unfolding in front of us. So it's going to happen at some point to have VR esports and what it's going to look like, we don't know exactly yet. But I think that a lot of these different principles that Chris is talking about is leading us towards in this direction to see what are the fundamental capabilities that we have to be able to embed within the game to make it inherently interesting for other people to watch. And there's also a huge logistical issue. I mean, if you just think about something like basketball or soccer or football, there's the players that are actually moving on this huge open field. And in VR, we're kind of limited within our own sort of bubbles. We're not actually like, you know, physically interacting with other people. And so being able to like, think about how do you do this stopgap between what people are able to do in these isolated environments and be able to interact in these virtual environments but other ways that we can sort of do a mixed reality of like you within the virtual world seeing these multiple people with their full embodiments. These interviews that I did with Liv talking about a huge part of the mixed reality is showing the nuances of human movement and getting those nuances of the actual humans moving but within you know this green screened painting of this virtual world and how these different people are interacting with each other but also like finding ways to do stuff that may be intuitive to watch but also like because it's esports and if you look at some of the most popular esports games that are out there they're incredibly esoteric and like they're actually very difficult to understand what the hell is going on unless you've actually played the game or you listen to the commentators and so I think there's this thing of the mirror neurons that happens that once you get a process of playing the game, you have a direct experience of it. So you watch other people play it, then it sort of triggers all this embodied memory within your own body. And I think that's the thing about these eSports is that, you know, you kind of have these things that, you know, you may have to actually play the game for you to really fully appreciate all the different dynamics of it. But overall, I think it's fascinating to think about how to create more of a plurality of different temperaments and different roles and how to do games that incorporate these different dimensions of discovery or self-expression or fellowship challenge and fantasy or sensation submission and narrative, you know, all these different dimensions of why people play games and figuring out how to like create these as different ingredients that you're combining together to create these experiences that are either in game design, but eventually these same game design principles are going to be applied to things like education and embodied cognition. And I think that to me is what is super exciting, is that the more that we change the way that we move our bodies, it changes the way that we think. So that once you're able to, you know, really play out a lot of these different gameplay mechanics that are in the realm of eSports, then those same gameplay mechanics could be applied to things like education and how we sort of learn about the world. And I think it's going to start with gaming, but it's going to end up like in everywhere because we live in a living participatory universe and we are going to have new opportunities of engaging and participating in life. And the future of music and storytelling and everything is in life is going to be immersive and interactive. And it's that dimension of how do you balance that authorial control of you telling a story, but with you being able to actually participate within the co-creation or the evolution of the dramas that are unfolding. So, uh, that's all that I have for today. 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